One of my favorite times of the year is upon us.
Little League tournament time.
It’s not always easy to be a fan of professional baseball these days and it’s especially not easy for me this week as my beloved San Diego Padres have lost eight in a row after scratching their way to .500 and into the National League West pennant race.
But one can always find something to smile about at a Little League game, especially at tournament time, when the best of the best battle for the right to play on the big stage in Williamsport, Pa.
Saturday morning, I was out at Thelma Schrock Little League Park in Goshen to watch the Goshen 9-10 No. 2 All Stars take on their counterparts from Warsaw.
Nothing like fueling that Goshen-Warsaw rivalry from an early age, I suppose.
I had covered another game Friday night, in the same division.
And as usual, I found myself thinking back to my own Little League days, starting with T-ball, which began at age 8 in my day.
But on Saturday, it was my own 9-10-year-old tournament experience I was thinking about — and smiling about as the memories came back.
I was one of our team’s top pitchers, and had been proudly computing my ERA all season, not long after being taught how to do it.
Yes, that involved math, but there was a higher calling — namely, baseball — involved.
Entering the district tournament, I was at about a 1.50 ERA, as I recall, and had been handed the honor of starting our tournament opener in early July.
Our coach was a bit peeved when I explained that I would be gone for two weeks prior to the game, on a fishing trip with my dad and grandpa in Alaska.
Coach was mollified somewhat when I pledged to find a way to get my throwing in on the trip.
While that may sound a bit problematical, where there was a will, there was a way. The Alaska Panhandle where my grandfather lived and fished is full of small islands, and it wasn’t too hard to anchor the boat off one in the afternoon. My dad and I would row the dinghy to shore, collect enough clamshells to fashion a reasonable facsimile of home plate, and work on my pitching for a half-hour or so.
Our first afternoon out, my side-throwing session was cut short by a family of bears appearing at the edge of the beach. We got to the dinghy in a hurry and high-tailed it back to the boat.
That family of bears had impeccable timing: I had just gone the night before with some new friends to see the all-the-rage horror movie of that summer of 1976, which was about — wait for it — a killer grizzly bear.
When I got home, alas, all that extra work didn’t help very much. I gave up 11 runs in the top of the first without recording an out.
My desire to compute my ERA came to a crashing halt.
A teammate relieved me, we didn’t give up any more runs, and we rallied late but came up just short at the end. And my plan to sit in the dugout for awhile to pout was thwarted by my mom and the other team parents, who were taking us for pizza.
And besides, there was another game to be played the next day.
Therein lies one of the wonders of baseball, and one of its most profound lessons: We may hit the walk-off homer to win a game today, or we may give up 11 runs without recording an out and get tagged with the loss.
Either way, we often get to try again tomorrow.
Good luck to all our local Little Leaguers as they chase their diamond dreams over the next few weeks.
Contact sports editor David Vantress at 533-2151, ext. 325 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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